It’s a strange feeling pulling out a wad of bills. It isn’t the same as scrawling your name across the bottom of a check, knowing that the money is in your account. And it’s distinctly different from handing the cashier a plastic card with a magnetic strip so worn that it rarely functions. Cash is real. It’s tangible. It’s green. And it makes you think.
I’ve been using cash almost exclusively since last December. With the exception of a few bills paid through automatic withdrawal and a couple checks for recurring expenses, I use paper to pay for everything. I admit that making the transition from plastic felt odd at first. Unlike my credit card, cash runs out. If you don’t remember to replace it, you find yourself ready to make a purchase, but without anything with which to make that purchase.
This only happened twice before I remedied the problem with a “tiny emergency fund” (otherwise known as a $5 bill) stuffed into my coin pocket. It’s to cover the types of incidental expenses likely to crop up during an ordinary day, but not so much that it enables impulse spending. On mornings when I know I’m heading to the market, I’ll add a bit more (usually thanks to a reminder plugged into my iPod when I made my shopping list).
The system works well, but it has its side effects. For some inexplicable reason, cash isn’t just tangible, it’s emotional. The bills in my pocket have begun to feel a bit like friends… and I like their company. The result is that I find myself passing on many of the “incidental” purchases which previously marked my monthly credit card statement. Is it really worth trading Mr. Washington for Dr. Pepper? Not really. (My physician and I are finally in agreement on that.) Am I comfortable exchanging Mr. Lincoln for a hamburger? Nope. Does relinquishing Mr. Hamilton for a new book really make me happier than borrowing the tome from the library? Ok, well, maybe yes to that one… but I’ll spend a few days thinking hard about the question before I bid him adieu.
The truth is that cash, by its mere presence, provokes thought. But using cash hasn’t just influenced the amount of time I spend considering what and how much I purchase. It’s also drawn my attention to how blessed I truly am. What seems like very little when tallied in a bank book, is actually quite a lot when carried in a pocket. That wad of bills is about much more than just the power to make a purchase… it’s about the immediate ability to make a difference. (Seriously, when was the last time you tossed your credit card into a Salvation Army bucket?) Cash provides an avenue for generous, spontaneous giving as I encounter needs in the lives of others. It gives me not just a heart to help (I already had that), but the physical means to reflect that heart through my actions.
So each time I pull those bills out of my pocket, I weigh them in the balance. Is the purchase I’m about to make really necessary? And if not, is it really the best investment of my green friends? Such questions provoke thought. And that is the power of cash.